Propaganda, especially when presented by “respected” figures such as scholars and scientists, can effectively work against any gains that would have been made by recently emancipated groups. Individuals like the Cuban criminologist Fernando Ortiz attempted to block or even reverse the acquisition of rights for Afro-Cubans by spreading fear. Ortiz’s publications depicted Afro-Cubans and dangerous and incapable of being absorbed into Cuban society as free people. Coming from his place of prestige as a scholar, writer, and public official, he was able to sew the seeds of fear and doubt widely enough in the collective Cuban mindset, that he did not need to make an attempt to restrict Afro-Cuban’s rights in any way–his propaganda created enough distrust in the Cuban population that the resistance to Afro-Cuban rights was widespread. As Dawson points out, when Afro-Cubans were in a position to discuss their rights, their appeals only acted to accentuate their difference, to “highlight their blackness, and foment further white hysteria over the black threat.” Ortiz’s propaganda had done its work.
Similarly, European scientists such as Francis Galton worked to further entrench racist sentiments by presenting “scientific” evidence that certain races were superior. Again, this claim is advanced by a trusted individual and the effects of this propaganda presented as science are impossible to overcome. Rights-seeking groups are reduced to, at best, inferior, and at worst, dangerous. Though marginalized groups have made some progress since emancipation and a global shift toward basic human rights, propaganda is ubiquitous, and the voices of the marginalized remain whispers next to the powerful propaganda of privileged white men.
After reading the works on women’s rights, I am left wondering if the same attempts had been made to scientifically reduce women to being intellectually inferior, or was the propaganda at the time mostly religious and aesthetic in tone?